Morocco boycott campaign undermines Islamist party’s credibility

PJD is experiencing one of its biggest internal crises since the Moroccan king’s dismissal of Benkirane as prime minister in April 2017.
Sunday 10/06/2018
Workers of the Centrale Danone company protest against the boycott of the brand in front of parliament in Rabat, on June 5. (AFP)
Jobs at risk. Workers of the Centrale Danone company protest against the boycott of the brand in front of parliament in Rabat, on June 5. (AFP)

CASABLANCA - The boycott of leading consumer brands in Morocco has claimed its first political casualty with the credibility of the ruling Islamist party “in tatters.”

Governance Minister Lahcen Daoudi, of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), resigned after being criticised by the PJD for taking part in a sit-in organised by dairy firm Centrale Danone workers in front of the parliament urging consumers to end a boycott of Centrale laitiere milk.

“The participation of brother Lahcen Daoudi in the sit-in in question is unreasonable and inappropriate,” the PJD general secretariat said in a statement.

Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani led the PJD meeting that issued the reprimand. His government had made a series of statements against the boycott that angered Moroccans.

The result is that PJD is experiencing one of its biggest internal crises since Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s dismissal of PJD member Abdelilah Benkirane as prime minister in April 2017.

While on his way to a parliamentary meeting, Lahcen joined protesters and chanted anti-boycott slogans: “It’s a shame. It’s an infamy. The economy is in danger!” The act was widely criticised by PJD party members who blamed him for hurting the party’s popularity.

Analyst Lotfi Abourizk said Daoudi’s conduct as a minister was unacceptable. “The government should be working towards finding a solution to the boycott rather than threatening those behind the campaign,” he said.

“The biggest trouble does not lie in Daoudi’s participation in the protest, which is a big mistake. There is no doubt that the big trouble lies in the absence of a vision and the disintegration of the whole and unified bet,” said PJD MP Amina Maelainaine on her Facebook page.

Abourizk said PJD’s credibility was in tatters because its leaders have been “speaking out of both sides of their mouths.”

Rachid Aourraz, a researcher at the Arab Centre for Scientific Research and Human Studies, said the Islamist party’s decline would be bad news for the country.

“How many radical reforms have been passed by the government under PJD’s rule?” asked Aourraz.

Protesters blame the government for a drop in purchasing power of Moroccans.

The boycott, announced on Facebook April 20 against the rising cost of living, targeted Centrale laitiere milk, Afriquia fuel stations (owned by billionaire and Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch) and the Sidi Ali mineral water brand (owned by Les Eaux Minerales d’Oulmes).

“The analysis of such a movement (the boycott) through the single price factor is necessarily reductive. It is the whole governance of an economy undermined by economic rent, corruption and the interference of political power with that of money, which is targeted,” anti-corruption group Transparency Maroc said in a statement.

Centrale Danone’s sales have plummeted by half since the start of the campaign, forcing the subsidiary of the French multinational Danone to issue a profit warning despite a public relations campaign on Moroccan television to convince Moroccans to end the boycott.

Centrale Danone said it would reduce the amount of milk collected from 120,000 Moroccan farmers by nearly one-third. Many workers on short-term contracts could lose their jobs.

The government voiced concern that the boycott may put off foreign investors and damage the domestic dairy sector.

The eastern and northern regions of Morocco have been gripped by protests over poverty, unemployment, corruption and the rising cost of living in the last two years, pressuring the government to quell the worst unrest since the “Arab spring” protests that led King Mohammed VI to devolve some of his powers.

“During the ‘Arab spring,’ some governments proposed reforms to meet protesters’ demands, thinking that it would be a transient cloud passing over. Some countries, such as Tunisia, were fed up with waiting for the situation to improve,” said Aourraz.

Additional boycott campaigns have sprouted in other Arab countries. Tunisians called for a boycott of food products whose prices skyrocketed during Ramadan. The hashtag “Let it rot” trended on social media after an increase of fish prices in Tunisia.

Algerians are boycotting cars assembled in Algeria with the hashtag “Let it rust,” because they deem the vehicles too expensive.

Protests against price and tax increases in Jordan forced Prime Minister Hani Mulki to step down following the proposal of a controversial income tax bill.

“Arabs are now more aware than anytime of the social and economic problems that they are facing in their countries. They are calling for real reforms that will improve their standard of living, not government changes that bring no tangible changes,” said Aourraz.